updated 5/24/2007 12:46:07 PM ET 2007-05-24T16:46:07

Most days are good, some not for a woman who is recovering from what has been called "internal decapitation."

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Shannon Malloy suffered "atlantooccipital dislocation" — that's what doctors call it. The force of her head hitting a car dashboard separated her skull from her spine.

Though rare, it's more common in children and is usually found during autopsies.

Speaking from her mother's home in Denver, Malloy, 30, said she remembers no pain from the crash near Tecumseh in southeast Nebraska on Jan. 25.

"I remember being slumped over and not being able to respond," she said.

She was a passenger in the car. She would not provide details of the accident, she said, because she's suing an insurer.

"Stay alive," Malloy said she told herself while still in the car. "I can't die."

She said she heard her boyfriend, Graham Neary, say to her: "Please stay with me."

"Then I don't remember much until the paramedics pulled me out of the car," Malloy said.

She recalls parts of her next three weeks at a Lincoln hospital, on a ventilator, unable to talk.

"At some point in the ICU, I remember writing a note (to her mom), asking if I was paralyzed.

"She said, 'No.'"

Physical challenges
Surviving the catastrophic injury has become more common because of faster protection of the airway and better spinal isolation at accident scenes.

Malloy also suffered a broken pelvis and ankle.

Yet she remains mostly upbeat.

"My family keeps joking that I must be brain-damaged because I'm so positive," she said.

After three weeks in intensive care and two weeks of rehabilitation, she walked out to begin her new life with daunting physical challenges. Her eyes remain crossed, awaiting surgery. She can turn her head only an inch side to side, but the restrictive halo apparatus she was wearing came off April 13.

She can't swallow yet.

"My esophagus muscle is so tight that even water won't pass through," she said. "I can't even swallow my own spit."

No surgeries have been scheduled to address her vision or inability to swallow. Money remains a problem, as has the paperwork required to get help from Medicaid.

Sometimes, Malloy said, "I feel like I'm on the outside looking in. At other times, I wish I was on the outside looking in."

"I'm not a religious person, but there's a reason for me to be here," she said. "And I've got to find out what that reason is and fulfill it."

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